In this section
Self-harm is also known as self-injury or self-abuse. The behavior is defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one's self. Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include:
- Cutting or severely scratching your skin
- Burning yourself
- Hitting yourself or banging your head
Reasons for self-harm:
- Letting out feelings you can't put into words
- Releasing the pain you feel inside
- Helping you feel in control
- Distracting you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
- Relieving guilt and punishing yourself
- Making you feel alive, or simply feel something, instead of feeling numb
The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn't last very long. It's like slapping on a band-aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn't fix the underlying issue. It also creates its own problems.
- The relief is short lived, and quickly followed by other feelings like shame and guilt. It keeps you from learning better ways of feeling better.
- Keeping the secret of self-harm from friends and family members may cause isolation.
- You can hurt yourself badly, even if you don't mean to. You may not realize how deeply you've cut.
- If you don't learn other ways to deal with emotional pain, it puts you at risk for bigger problems down the line, including major depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
- Self-harm can become addictive. It may start off as something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming is controlling you. It often turns into a compulsive behavior that seems impossible to stop.
Warning signs that a family member or friend is self-harming:
- Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
- Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, glass shards, or bottle caps, in the person's belongings.
- Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
- Needing to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
- Isolation and irritability.
Professional treatment for self-harm
You may need the help and support of a trained professional as you work to overcome self-harm, so consider talking to a therapist. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) – Organization dedicated to helping people who self-harm. Includes treatment referrals, recovery information, and an information helpline: 1-800-366-8288. (S.A.F.E. Alternatives)
Need someone to talk to? Crisis mental healthcare hotlines are available in English or Español.
Looking to find a mental health provider? Learn more about our specialists.
To make an appointment, call the Psychiatry and behavioral medicine program.
For new referrals or new patient appointments, please call (414) 266-3339.
Help is available immediately if your family is experiencing a mental health crisis.